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Old School Memories – Chicken Parmigiana

Courtesy of Deirdre Reid and her blog “Grabbing the Gusto”

Time flew away from me the other night and all of a sudden it was 7:00 pm, I was hungry and I hadn’t even thought about dinner. I had chicken breasts ready to go but no inspiration. So, as usually happens in these situations, I fall back to what I know from my Italian restaurant days – menus that are imprinted in my brain. That usually means pasta, but when I opened the frig I saw tomato sauce, grated parmigiano and mozzarella. Inspired! Chicken parmigiana, the old-school Italian-American menu staple.

My first waiting job was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college. That was also the last summer I spent home in Massachusetts. My dad pulled some strings and arranged for me to get a job at his regular lunch place, George’s Cafe – a busy Italian restaurant in Brockton, MA. It’s been owned by the Tartaglia family for 70 years. One of the uncles worked for Rocky Marciano so there was boxing memorabilia all over the bar. Most of the staff were related somehow, either Tartaglias or Marcianos – all Sicilian-Americans and lifers in the restaurant industry. Charlie ran the place and would often be maitre d’ on busy nights, all glammed up in his white suit, black shirt and gold pendant, working the crowd of regulars. His daughter, who was only a few years older than me, ran the kitchen and sauté station. She was tough and had no patience for errors. I was the youngest by far and I don’t think any of them thought I would last, but it turns out I was a natural at waiting tables.

One of the waitresses told me that I would never work in a place as strange as George’s. She might have been right. Their ordering system involved different colored pencils. We were called to pick up food with a coded bell system that was usually abused by impatient cooks. There were regular kitchen blow-ups that somehow ended up with us on the receiving end of a tirade. But when things cooled down, they could be the nicest people. I learned how to deal with all kinds of customers, became a fast and efficient waitress and made some really good money considering I was working in a tough old city like Brockton.

The menu was typical old-school fare – veal, chicken, seafood, pasta and pizza. I see the same kind of menu still all over southern Massachusetts. The food was good and I still visit there sometimes when I go home. I once had the best spaghetti carbonara of my life there – I still think about it.

Here’s how I make chicken parmigiana. You’ll need:

  • Boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin
  • Dish of beaten egg, salt and pepper
  • Dish of bread crumbs mixed with some parmigiana cheese or green can parmesan
  • Olive oil
  • Marinara or jarred spaghetti sauce
  • Grated mozzarella cheese

Dip the chicken in the egg wash and then in the bread crumb/cheese mixture, making sure to get all sides covered. Let them rest for 5-10 minutes. Heat up the oil and sauté the breasts on both sides until they’re golden-brown. Put them in a baking pan. Top each with some sauce and mozzarella. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes or until the chicken is done and the cheese just turns golden-brown.

Serve with spaghetti marinara and pour yourself a glass of red wine. Cin cin!

For more foodie insight and delicious recipes, visit Deirdre’s site at Grabbing the Gusto.

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